Originally published in STIR®
Style and sustainability go hand in hand in designer Laura Birns' projects.

California interior designer Laura Birns loves many colors, but she’s most passionate about green. As a member of the U.S. Green Building Council and an advocate of its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program, she approaches all her projects through a green lens.

“My philosophy is to stay true to form and function, which means maintaining a healthy environment,” she says. “I don’t know how else to design but green.”

She enjoys educating clients about the wide and rapidly expanding range of environmentally friendly materials available.

“Many clients want ideas about green products, but they aren’t aware of all the choices,” she says. “Technology moves so fast, it’s tough even for professionals to stay ahead of the learning curve on all the new sustainable products and solutions on the market.”

“People are sometimes surprised that they can have luxury and beauty — and still be very green.”

When Birns was hired to design a two-bedroom oceanfront condo for client Susan Drawdy, Birns made sure her specifications from paint to lighting, from flooring to fabric, were all environmentally friendly choices, including:

  • Bamboo flooring with a formaldehyde-free, water-based sealer. Bamboo grows faster than hardwoods. Because it is a grass, it can be harvested again and again from the same plant. It’s also harder than maple and red oak, and very beautiful, Birns notes.
  • A wool area rug that is certified “child-labor free,” meaning no child labor was used in manufacturing. Wool is also a good choice for avoiding petroleum-or chemical based-fibers.
  • No-VOC paints (Sherwin-Williams Harmony®).
  • Dimmer-controlled lighting throughout the condo to conserve energy.
  • Low-flow water fixtures and low-energy appliances throughout.
  • Sheer weave window coverings that allow light in and block out heat, ultraviolet rays and the sun’s glare.
  • Recyclable glass tiles in the kitchen.
  • Natural lighting in the master bathroom through a skylight.
  • No PVC (polyvinyl chloride, which has been proven toxic) in upholstery fabrics.
  • Stainless-steel accents. Stainless steel is resistant to corrosion and staining, requires little maintenance, is relatively inexpensive, and is 100 percent recyclable. In fact, an average stainless-steel object is composed of about 60 percent recycled material, 25 percent from end-of-life products and 35 percent coming from manufacturing processes
  • Wood that was sustainably harvested.

The result was a surprised — and very pleased — client. “Green design was appealing, but it was not a priority to us,” Drawdy says. “Laura educated us about sustainable design, and she really outdid herself on our home.”